Long Beach City Council moves forward with proposed law to address tenant harassment

Updated: Oct 26, 2020

The ordinance will likely come back to the panel for approval at a special meeting on Nov. 2 or soon thereafter.

LOCAL NEWSNews October 20, 2020 9:00 p.m.

An eviction notice hangs on a tenants door in Long Beach in this 2018 file photo. California Gov. Gavin Newsom gave cash-strapped California renters 60 days to figure out how to pay three months rent. Newsom signed an executive order Friday, March 27, banning all evictions through May 31 if a tenant is unable to pay his or her rent due to the novel coronavirus outbreak. T(Photo by Scott Varley, Press-Telegram/SCNG)

Hayley Munguia | Long Beach Press-Telegram

Long Beach renters will likely soon have more legal protections against landlord harassment.

The City Council voted 5-3 during its Tuesday, Oct. 20, meeting, with Councilmember Al Austin absent and Councilmembers Suzie Price, Daryl Supernaw and Stacy Mungo dissenting, to direct the City Attorney to write an ordinance to address tenant harassment in the city.

The ordinance will likely come back to the panel for approval at a special meeting on Nov. 2 or soon thereafter.

The item was brought forward by Vice Mayor Dee Andrews, who represents Long Beach’s Sixth District in Central Long Beach. Andrews cited renters in his district who have reported having security fences removed from their building in retaliation for not signing a lease with a rent increase so high that it would violate the state’s Tenant Protection Act, among other alleged abuses.

If approved, the ordinance would bar landlords from, among other actions:

  • Failing to timely perform repairs and maintenance required by law or a lease;

  • Abusing the right of access into a dwelling unit;

  • Trying to persuade a tenant to move out through fraud, misrepresentation, intimidation or coercion;

  • Providing false written or verbal information regarding any local, city, state, federal, or other tenant protections;

  • Violating a tenant’s right to privacy, including by requesting their citizenship or protected class status; and

  • Interfering with tenants’ rights to organize and engage in concerted activities for the purpose of mutual aid and protection.

Multiple renters and housing advocates spoke during the meeting about how the protections are needed.

“Tenant harassment is real and is happening all across the city,” Elsa Tung, a research and policy analyst with Long Beach Forward, said. “This is a matter of basic human decency. If you are a kind, decent landlord, you have nothing to worry about. This ordinance will not impact you.”

But Fred Sutton, the L.A. regional spokesman for the California Apartment Association, said that state law already prohibits many of the actions listed in the proposed city law.

“Residents are protected from harassment and wrongful eviction,” he said. “Any meaningful protections this law can impose have already been imposed.”

Deputy City Attorney Rich Anthony, though, clarified that the suggested ordinance would go further than state law. While state law does guard against retaliation from landlords, he said, it does not include specific provisions to address harassment.

Still, Anthony had questions about certain aspects of the ordinance.

Though there was some confusion among council members about his questions — such as whether the law would apply to commercial tenants, whether the city would be tasked with enforcing the law and what type of penalty should be imposed for landlords found in violation — it seemed a majority of the panel was able to agree. (On those three questions, the council decided that commercial tenants would not be included; the law would be enforced through the courts; and the City Attorney will determine the penalty, which will be written into the ordinance based on similar ordinances in other cities.)

The council members who dissented had varying reasons for voting against the motion.

Price pushed for the law to include a way for landlords to cure the harm before being found in violation; she also expressed concern about the ongoing confusion of what the law would or would not include.

Supernaw did not speak specifically on his reasoning for voting against it, but he did ask about how much crossover the ordinance would have with laws already on the books. He was also interested in how the city would enforce it.

Enforcement was also a sticking point for Mungo. She suggested creating an administrative position to adjudicate cases stemming from the proposed law rather than going through the courts.

“I’m just looking to figure out what’s the issue,” she said. “There’s a perception that people are being harassed. How do we stop people from being harassed?”

She was not convinced, based on the protections that already exist, she said, that more laws that still rely on the court system to be enforced would suffice.

“Court processes take a long time,” she said.

Source: https://www.presstelegram.com/2020/10/20/long-beach-city-council-moves-forward-with-proposed-law-to-address-tenant-harassment/

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